Any observer of the Nigerian political space and the media reportage of campaigns in the build-up to the Ekitistate governorship election may find the result hard to believe. The “geniuses” analysing the chances of the frontline contenders – Peoples Democratic Party’s Ayo Fayose and Dr. Kayode Fayemi of the All Progressives Congress, barely gave any chance to Fayose. The race was for Fayemi to win.
For one, Fayemi had the highest advantage in politics, more so in politics Nigeriana – the incumbency. Secondly, Fayemi’s APC is hitherto perceived to have absolute control of the South West geopolitical zone, save for Ondo State. On his own merit, Fayemi is a model politician, at least to many educated young Nigerians beyond Ekiti State. A political scientist turned practitioner, someone with grandeur vision of development for his people, owing to his vast experience in international development. It is therefore for sound reasons that even among the APC governors, Fayemi is one of the most revered by his party’ sympathisers. So many admirers have been tipping him to a presidential running mate to anyone APC presents from the North.
Fortunately or not, the Saturday voting was not done by the ipad-clutching social media crusaders for whom Fayemi is an exceptional hero. The result once again showed that internet popularity or acceptability among educated elite is something akin to a Potemkin’s village, when it comes the polls. The core is not as promising as the facade. The guy with influence on Facebook or Twitter may not have a voter’s card, after all. It is the “idiots” with votes that decide. It was therefore only democratic for Fayose’s two hundred thousands “idiots” to trump the “geniuses” going after an intellectual of a politician. It was as simple as that. My friends from Ekiti reported that Fayose who is dismissed in “serious circles” like the social and mainstream media, had his own covenant with the people. Rice or no rice, Fayose is severally described as the man who understood the local tunes, and mastered the dance steps. A grassroots politician who knows where it itches the people and how to scratch it.
Political choice is purely a sentimental exercise. And the fact that it is a rule of the majority means the larger group can always pick for everybody leadership that is not necessarily the best. In any case, visionary leaders in history are often unpopular. It is usually a matter of choice between going with the people to satisfy their parochial desires or taking a radical divergent route at great personal risk. A story from Ekiti perfectly demonstrates this. At a town hall meeting sometime in 2012, a puzzled Governor Fayemi was confronted by a man who,by way of asking question, told the governor; “We have seen physical infrastructure, but when can we have stomach infrastructure. We are hungry o!”. There was applause from the audience. That one commentator captured the psyche of the people and what we saw happening in the run off to the election explains it further. The picture of people queuing up to collect midget bags of rice with PDP’s logo emblazoned on it went viral on the internet. While the internet warriors made jest of Fayose and patrons of his rice, the man pushed on. He knew what the people wanted.
The Ekiti result came with plethora of lessons in poli-tricks, the rudimentary tricks of the game of number. It also underlined some fault lines and disconnects or what I may term clash of perceptions between the leaders and the led. In many instances, there have been such clashes between how the leader felt public resources should be expended and the view of the people. This is more pronounced in constituencies where a predecessor had set a precedence of throwing money at peopled white elephant projects at the expense of real developmental projects. Some governors, for example, are unpopular today not because they are not doing their best in utilising their states’ income but because they don’t “empower” or “help” people. Now, this should be a cud for political strategists and scholars to masticate.
Another great lesson from the Ekiti polls is for the APC to meditate; rethink, and restrategise. The election, by all Nigerian standard, was free and fair. If it wasn’t to any extent, the loud voice of APC would not go missing. Now, if the APC, which balks in the hope of taking over the Federal Government just some eight month from now, will so badly lose in its stronghold, what lies ahead for the party? The fall of Ekiti, for me, teaches the APC that counting on an opponent’s perceived unpopularity or weakness is not a guarantee of winning over him. You have to bring something to the table. Weakness doesn’t necessarily bring down just anybody, you have to push him down. If APC thinks it would just win on a platter, this is a bitter lesson.
Postscript: A big thump-up to John Kayode Fayemi for that beautiful gesture of sportsmanship by admitting defeat. I didn’t expect anything less from a refined political science scholar like him. This is an example worth emulating. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso who did just that when he was voted out from Kano Government House in 2003, got rewarded with unprecedented re-election eight years later in 2011. I wish the same for JKF.
Abdulaziz Abdulaziz is on linkedIn